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Daily fantasy advice for DraftKings NHL contests

by Pete Jensen

From television and Internet advertisements to social media trends and even subway billboards, daily fantasy sports surrounds us every day. It's the wave of the future.

Every day is a new season in #DFS (the popular hashtag used to distinguish this fantasy format), so it doesn't warrant the level of commitment of traditional season-long leagues. Daily contests involve far greater attention to injuries, starting goalie updates and line combinations leading up to games, because it all comes down to performance on the night of the contest you join. Once the puck drops, you're glued to your smartphone or laptop for scoring plays involving your players.

Win or lose, the next day brings a clean slate. If one of your players sustains an injury, you can draft someone else the following day. Each day brings new price tags for players, meaning new sleepers and bargains surface and alter the ever-changing landscape. It's an exhilarating concept that has captivated sports fans across the United States.

Have a busy schedule? Not enough time to manage a roster for a full season? Not a problem. After setting your lineup for a particular day and making your player salaries fit within the DraftKings salary cap, there are no strings attached. Sit back and enjoy the action and play again whenever you have free time.

1. Linemates and point pairs

There are many strong lines around the League, so grab those players in groups when possible based on prices, opponents, past success and upside. If the St. Louis Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko is priced at $9,000 and linemate Paul Stastny is going for $4,200, Stastny offsets Tarasenko's steep price. This strategy can apply to two or three even-strength forward linemates, an elite forward point pair or even a forward-defenseman connection (i.e., the Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux and Mark Streit). Any combination can be deadly on any given night when you can fit them in and potentially get points in bunches for scoring plays.

2. Cheaper goalies

No NHL game is a given; unpredictability is one of the great things about the sport. For instance, Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, hypothetically priced low at $7,000 in the midst of a five-game losing streak, could allow one goal with 30 saves against the San Jose Sharks while a more expensive goalie, like the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask, priced at $9,000, could allow three goals on 25 shots against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's usually not a bad thing to shell out for an elite goalie, but it can bring greater value when you spend top dollars elsewhere and take your chances with a lower-tier goalie or backup in a spot start with a more favorable matchup.

3. Stacking and buy-low candidates

Setting yourself apart from the pack can be crucial in a large contest. Stacking is a DFS term that refers to when you use the majority of your roster spots on one game you think could be high-scoring or one team you think might excel. I always think back to one night last season when a contest winner had seven Buffalo Sabres when they had a rare monster game. That probably wouldn't have paid off 99 times out of 100, but it did that night. Also, invest in cheap players with high upside while they're in the midst of a slump with good career numbers against the opposition. Also be on the lookout for statistical shot-on-goal trends; if a forward has 15 SOG in his past four games and no goals, he could be due for a shooting percentage correction.

4. Category coverage helps in good times and bad

Goals get the headlines, but other categories sometimes can be equally or more valuable. Researching multiple categories, including blocked shots, helps avoid coming up empty even if some of your players don't have goals or assists on a given day. If you draft Andrei Markov and he doesn't score a goal but has one assist (two points) and five blocked shots (2.5 points), he can be just as valuable as a player who scores one goal (three) on three shots on goal (1.5 points). A little research and you'll find which players block shots or shoot regularly.

Recent DraftKings point totals and money values at which past performance was achieved are available once you join a DraftKings contest and click on player pages. Get a sense of what a player has been averaging in his past five to 10 games and what you can expect even if he doesn't score. Keep an eye on peripheral categories because they keep your roster well-rounded and also make your good picks even more valuable. Missing on a player is common, but it's important to get two or three DraftKings points apiece from any misses to stay afloat in the hunt for your contest's prize range.

5. Sleepers

Players can slip through the cracks in DraftKings contests. If Evgeny Kuznetsov was just moved alongside Alex Ovechkin and is the 20th-most expensive center on a given night, that's a lineup trend to capitalize on. If Jaromir Jagr is traded to a better team in the midst of a scoring slump, his salary may be nowhere near where it would be during a hot streak. It's fine to spend money on Patrick Kane or Giroux, but sleepers often are where the real value lies in daily fantasy. If you take a few players who end up being drafted in 10-20 percent of your contest and they end up performing much better than expected, you'll see the gains while others wish they were more creative. Identifying top-six forwards and players with a recent uptick in power-play minutes per game is especially important in the search for sleepers.

6. Non-scoring stats and bonuses

Instead of a bigger name who's slumping on the power play, you might rather have a lesser-known player who is tearing it up at even strength; a power-play goal or assist is worth the same as an even-strength one in DraftKings. That said, if you're choosing between two slumping players and one sees first-unit action with the man-advantage, he'll be in a better position to score with those opportune chances. Advanced statistics shed light on puck-possession strengths and weaknesses. If a player controls the puck more, he has a better chance to attempt a shot on goal or score a goal than if his team constantly is chasing the puck. The more you know about a player's role and usage, the easier it is to tell if that player is priced appropriately on a given day compared to others.

As far as bonus points, you are rewarded in DraftKings for shorthanded points, shootout goals and goalie shutouts. If the New York Islanders' Nikolay Kulemin just got moved to John Tavares' line and also plays on the penalty kill, he's a DraftKings sleeper and a clear threat for rare shorthanded point bonuses. If a player is among the leaders in shootout goals, he has a better chance of being in a team's top three shooters if the game goes to the tiebreaker and earning a bonus if he scores. These are factors to keep in mind when considering different players. Also, it's not unheard of for a contest winner to be decided by a bonus point, so don't forget about those categories.

7. Streaks and home/road splits

It's common for a relatively unknown player to be in the midst of a three-game point streak after an elevated role and still be priced affordably in DraftKings. If you spot an emerging player who's picking up stream, trust that player to keep it going against a favorable opponent, especially if he's sticking in a top-six forward role in his next game or filling in for an injured teammate for the near future. Same goes for other categories like blocked shots and shots on goal. Any player heating up in a scoring category and still under the radar is a no-brainer in DraftKings. I also recommend looking at past performances against specific teams when recent and relevant, and also viewing home/road point production splits. The Tampa Bay Lightning's Tyler Johnson on the road during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs is a prime example of how this trend can pay off.

8. Expensive players

Although you never should get caught up on trying to fit in too many expensive players on a given night, there are some days when there will be enough value picks to afford two or three elite players, such as the Sharks' Joe Pavelski in the $9,000 range with the Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen and the Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa in the $7,000 range. Those players are priced that way because of past production and the high likelihood that each will hit his ceiling again soon. Don't take Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins every day, but take him when the circumstances are right.

9. Late-game drama

In the same fashion as when DFS NFL players save a quarterback, running back or wide receiver for a game Monday night, it's not a bad idea to keep at least two players for West Coast action if your contest counts early and late games. There's something about giving yourself an opportunity to watch West Coast hockey while playing daily fantasy that's thrilling, especially in head-to-head formats. If you split your players among the 7 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET starts, you'll have interest in all the games and have something to play for more often than not. If you need to make up 10-15 points to catch your opponent, it's much easier when you have three or four players going in the late games as opposed to only one or two. There's always a chance you could be trailing entering the late games, so diversify your assets based on the start times of games with players who touch on multiple categories and your team always will have a chance to make up ground.

10. Be confident!

You can strategize on a lineup for hours on end, but luck always is the wild card. Don't second-guess your picks before puck drop. Read up on lineup changes, starting goalies and injury updates. If you're not confident enough to play in a contest with 2,000 people, then get warmed up with a head-to-head matchup. If you play head-to-head, play on a busy night to avoid roster overlap with your opponent. Either way, trust your instincts and have fun learning the ways of DFS while watching hockey. Same goes for feedback from your friends. Don't go crazy switching around your original lineup on second thought unless you notice a key injury, lineup trend or other factor that you missed before. The more people you ask about your lineup, the more you start to tweak things and may have regrets later on. Keep quiet on your favorite value picks so you can bask in the glory if you win.


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